My New Title Tuesday recommendation this week, Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan, has been on and off the New York Times top-ten best seller list for graphic novels since its release in September. Once I scanned the first few pages, I was bewitched by the drawings and the original treatment of the timeless tale.
Publisher’s Summary: The scene: New York City. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” In a moody, cinematic new telling of a beloved fairy tale, extraordinary graphic novelist Matt Phelan captures the essence of classic film noir on the page—and draws a striking distinction between good and evil.
As an educator, I am always on the lookout for books to reach all of my students including reluctant readers or those with reading disorders. But this lovely book is perfect for anyone ten years old and up as the dark imagery and violence may be too menacing for younger readers.
From the art deco influence to the realistic historical setting of the depression, Phelan has created a layered story that conveys raw emotions through exquisitely drawn pictures. I found that each time I re-read Phelan’s Snow White, another subtle image rose to the surface. Although the drawings are mostly black and white, Phelan adds color sparingly – the apple is a stark red, naturally, but he adds a gentle wash of blue or green hues to enhance specific scenes or images.
Kirkus Reviews agrees: “Phelan masterfully shifts a tale heavily reliant on magic and fantasy into a realistic and historical setting without compromising plausibility. Creating sweeping and dreamy watercolors that play with emotion and color, Phelan is an exquisite visual storyteller, and he lets expressive, wordless sequences carry a large portion of his interpretation. With a keen historical slant, a bit of action and intrigue, high visual interest, and the fairy-tale leaning, this will awe a wide readership.”
Snow White is a quick read, so I recommend two more historically-set graphic novels also by Matt Phelan:
Bluffton: My Summers with Buster: In the summer of 1908, in Muskegon, Michigan, a visiting troupe of vaudeville performers is about the most exciting thing since baseball. They’re summering in nearby Bluffton, so Henry has a few months to ogle the elephant and the zebra, the tightrope walkers and — lo and behold — a slapstick actor his own age named Buster Keaton. The show folk say Buster is indestructible; his father throws him around as part of the act and the audience roars, while Buster never cracks a smile. Henry longs to learn to take a fall like Buster, “the human mop,” but Buster just wants to play ball with Henry and his friends.
The Storm in the Barn: In Kansas in the year 1937, eleven-year-old Jack Clark faces his share of ordinary challenges: local bullies, his father’s failed expectations, a little sister with an eye for trouble. But he also has to deal with the effects of the Dust Bowl, including rising tensions in his small town and the spread of a shadowy illness. Certainly a case of “dust dementia” would explain who (or what) Jack has glimpsed in the Talbot’s abandoned barn – a sinister figure with a face like rain. In a land where it never rains, it’s hard to trust what you see with your own eyes, and harder still to take heart and be a hero when the time comes.